Co-educational boarding school Cheltenham College recently hosted an education conference for headteachers on a topic very popular at present; mindfulness.
What actually is mindfulness? How does mindfulness work? And how exactly does mindfulness relate to pupils? These questions were answered by the event’s speakers, Oxford University’s Mindfulness Centre Psychotherapist, Chris Cullen and Director of the Mindfulness in Schools Project, Claire Kelly.
As Crispin Dawson, Deputy Head Pastoral from Cheltenham College noted in his introduction, nationally there is a 200% rise in the number of pupils who suffer from exam pressure for pupils, one in ten young people of school age have mental health issues; the immediacy and ease of communication via social media channels, and issues of self-image conspire to create an environment that some children find impossible to navigate. There is a need, now more than ever, to examine ways in which schools can provide young people with the tools they need to cope with these pressures.
Mindfulness is described as ‘present moment awareness’, which is accessed through sensing the body and paying attention, on purpose, to being in the present moment. Alongside the benefits of reduced stress, anxiety, and general wellbeing, pupils who have been taught mindfulness training have reported their capacity to concentrate has greatly improved, thus improving their productivity. Chris Cullen stated that while people can sabotage themselves from overthinking thoughts, Mindfulness teaches pupils to try and stop themselves from reliving situations or worrying about possible future ones.
Chris enthused: ‘Schools are recognising that supporting the good mental health of children and young people, both in education and for the longer term is a crucial part of a schools responsibility.
‘Mindfulness is evidence-based training in the skills of good mental health that fits well into the PSHE curriculum. The Mindfulness in Schools programme, run by teachers and former teachers provides very accessible resources for supporting schools.’
The public may have preconceived ideas about mindfulness and Claire Kelly spoke about what mindfulness is not. It is not, as she stated, a breathing exercise, a relaxation technique, a quick fix or a cure for anything. However schools, such as Cheltenham College, are realising the benefit it can have on developing the whole individual, both academically and pastorally.
Mindfulness is for everyone and every pupil, not just for those who think they need it, i.e. those who are stressed or anxious. It has had hugely positive effects for sports athletes and teams, such as rugby player Jonny Wilkinson, a mindfulness practitioner, who used it as a personal technique to aid him in kicking the winning drop goal at the Rugby World Cup in 2003.
The Mindfulness in schools Project offers two programmes .B (Dot B) for 11-18 years and Paws B for seven to 11 years, teaching the same fundamentals of mindfulness but in different ways. Claire said: ‘Our aim is not to force everyone to do mindfulness but for everyone to know what it is, for some to practice it occasionally and for a few to do it on a regular basis, purely because of all the benefits it has.’
As the conference concluded, a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt left a lingering message: ‘Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery and today is a gift, which is why it is called the present.’